The Little Grey Gossip

Soon after my Cousin Sarah’s marriage, we were invited to stay with the newly-married couple, for a few weeks during the festive Christmas season. Away we set off with merry hearts, in the clear frosty winter’s air, and with the pleasant prospect ahead of us invigorating our spirits. We took our seats inside the first class coach on the early morning train, which passed through the town of Ballyshee, where Cousin Sarah lived. I can say without fear of contradiction that there was never a kinder or more genial soul than Cousin Sarah, and David Daniels, her ‘Good Man’, as she laughingly called him. If it is at all possible, David was even kinder and more genial still. Their home was filled with kinds of comforts, and they were always delighted to see friends in a sociable, easy way. They believed in making visitors snug and cosy, though our arrival was only the first of what was to be a succession of such arranged visits.

These evenings were both very amusing and enjoyable, for Con’s presence would always shed radiant sunshine upon a gathering, while David’s broad and honest face beamed upon her with a loving pride. At our house, during those days of their courtship, for sober middle-aged lovers, they had perhaps indulged in sweet talk and pecking each other a little too freely when they were in the company of others. This would leave them open to criticisms from the prim and proper brigade, who wondered why Miss Constance and Mr Danvers would make so ridiculous. But now, with marriage, all of this nonsense had calmed down, and nothing like that could be seen, except for the odd sly glance, or an occasional squeeze of the hand. When we talked about those bygone days, we would joke and declare that engaged couples pairs were usually a pain, and that you could always spot such a couple in a big crowd!

“’I’ll bet you anything you like,” cried Cousin Con, with a good-humoured laugh, “that among our guests coming this evening, you’ll not be able to point out the engaged couple among them. There will be only one such couple, although there are plenty of lads and lasses that would like to be so happily situated! But, the couple I allude to are real little love birds, and yet I defy you to find them!’

“That’s a bet, Cousin Con!” we exclaimed, “and what shall we bet?”

“Gloves! Those fancy French gloves!” cried David. “You Ladies always use gloves to bet. But, I warn you that my Con is on a safe bet now.” David rubbed his hands excitedly, delighted with his joke, which he thought would be at our expense. We, however, were already thinking about our existing collections of fine French gloves, and looking forward to expanding the collections with half-a-dozen pair of particularly expensive samples from Con’s large collection. As a result we watched, with extra interest, the arrival and movements of all strangers to the house that evening, in the hope of detecting the lovers who were engaged.

There were mothers and fathers that came in, both old and middle-aged ladies and gentlemen, until all the drawing rooms were filled with some thirty people. We closely watched all the young people, particularly the manner in which they interacted and we discovered several innocent flirtations. But, we saw nothing that gave us the appearance of a loving and engaged couple. After a while, however, we established ourselves in the corner of a room to closely observe a tall, beautiful girl, who never seemed to take her eyes from the door leading into the room. Each time it opened to admit someone this beautiful girl would sigh and look disappointed if the person entering was not the person she wanted to see. We spent some time enjoying ourselves by making up a romantic scenario in which this girl was the heroine. It was during this game that a little woman, dressed in grey, and aged about sixty years, took a seat beside us and began a conversation. She asked us if we were admiring the pretty Anna McKenna, as she worked out who we were looking at so intently. We had to admit that we were, and the old lady told us, “Ah, she’s a good, affectionate girl. A great favourite of mine is sweet Anna McKenna.”

“She’s waiting for her lover, no doubt?” we suggested to her in the hope of getting some information about engagement. “She is an engaged young lady, of course?”

“Engaged! engaged!” laughed the little lady in grey, “not at all, God forbid! Anna McKenna is not engaged.” The expression on the little lady’s face after we made our suggestion, demonstrated how ludicrous our supposition had been in her eyes. We immediately admitted that we had no knowledge whatsoever in this matter and suggested that our mistake was made through our own ignorance. The encounter had, however, given us both the time to examine our new acquaintance more critically. As stated, this old lady was dressed in grey, which blended in beautifully with her grey hairs, braided in a peculiarly                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     obsolete fashion, and uncovered. She wore grey gloves, grey shoes, and, above all, gray eyes, soft, large, and peculiarly sad in their expression. And yet, they were beautiful eyes, which redeemed her grey, monotonous appearance from being absolutely plain. It is said that Mary Queen of Scots, also had gray eyes. But, even she, the poor lady, did not have the same knowledge of others, past and present, as did this little unknown gossip in gray. But our attention was soon diverted, by the entrance of another person into the room, to whom Anna McKenna darted forward with a cry of delight and welcome. This new arrival was a slender, elderly gentleman, whose white hairs, pale face, and benignant expression presented nothing remarkable in their aspect, beyond a certain air of elegance and refinement, which characterised the whole outward appearance of the man.

“That is a charming-looking old gentleman,” we said to the grey lady, “is he Anna’s father?’

“Anna’s father? O dear, no! That gentleman is a bachelor! He is Anna’s guardian, and has taken the place of a father to her, for poor Anna is an orphan.”

“Oh!” we exclaimed, and there was a great variety of meaning in our “oh!” We had, of course, read and heard of youthful wards falling in love with their guardians? Might not the fair Anna’s taste incline this way? The little gray lady had immediately understood our thoughts. She smiled knowingly, but she said nothing. Then, while we were absorbed with Anna and her supposed antiquated lover, the old lady moved into the circle, and presently we saw Anna’s guardian, with Anna leaning on his arm, exchange a few words with her in a whispering tone, as she brought them to an inner room.

“Who is that pleasing-looking old gentleman?” we asked our hostess, “and what is the name of that lady in grey, who went away just as you came up? That is Anna McKenna we know, and we know also that she isn’t engaged!”

Cousin Con laughed heartily as she replied, “That nice old gentleman is Mr Worthington, our poor curate, and a poor curate he is likely ever to continue, so far as we can see. The lady in grey we call, fondly, our ‘little gray gossip,’ and she is a darling! As to Anna, you seem to know all about her. I suppose little Bessie has been praising her up to the skies.”

“Who is little Bessie?” we asked her.

“Little Bessie is your little grey gossip. We never call her anything but Bessie to her face and she really is a harmless little old maid. But come this way, for Bessie is going to sing. They won’t let her rest till she complies, and let me tell you that Bessie singing, and Bessie talking, are widely different creatures.”

Widely different indeed! There was this little grey lady seated at the piano, and making it speak, while her thrilling tones, as she sang of  ‘days gone by,’ went straight to each listener’s heart. As for the lady herself, she was looking ten years younger! When the song was over, I saw Mr Worthington, with Anna still resting on his arm, in a corner of the apartment, shaded by a projecting piece of furniture. At the same time, I also noted the tear on his furrowed cheek, which he hastily brushed away. He stooped to answer some remark of Anna’s, who, with fond affection, had evidently seen it also, and was trying to dispel the painful illusion which memories of days gone by brought about.

At the end of the evening, we found the company was separating, and our bet was still unredeemed. The last to leave was Mr Worthington, escorting Anna McKenna and little Bessie, whom he tenderly helped with her shawl, no doubt because she was a poor lonely little old maid, and she sang so sweetly.

The next morning over breakfast, Cousin Con launched herself at us with the support of Mr Danvers. They both demanded that we should give them the answer to the task we were given, or else hand over our fine French gloves! After a great amount of laughter, talking, and discussion, we had to finally confess that the question had defeated us, for there had been an engaged couple present on the previous evening, and we had failed to discover who they were. It was not Anna McKenna for she had no lover. Neither was it the Misses Halls , or the young Barton boys. We had seen them flirt and dance, and dance and flirt indiscriminately during the evening, but they were not interested in any serious engagements.

Who would have thought that romance, that was now divulged, was actually true? We wondered how we could have been so stupid as to not have seen the answer immediately. These questions are very common when a riddle has been unfolded to provide a solution that you did not expect. It is so easy to be wise when one has the answer in their hand. Yet we cheerfully lost our wager and would have lost a hundred similar ones just for the sake of hearing the following tale, which is so far removed from what is expected that it proves enduring faith and affection are not so fabulous as philosophers would have you believe they are.

Bessie Prunty was nearly related to David Danvers, and she had been the only child of a talented but improvident father, who, after a short, brilliant career as a public singer, suddenly sank into obscurity and neglect. The poor man had suffered a total loss of his vocal powers, which had been brought on by a violent rheumatic cold and extreme physical and emotional exhaustion. When this misfortune occurred, Bessie had almost reached her twentieth year, and she was still in mourning for an excellent mother, by whom she had been tenderly and carefully brought up. The descent from luxury and indulgence to poverty and privation was very swift. Although Bessie had inherited a very small income from the will of her deceased mother, which was sufficient for her own needs, and even a few comforts, it was totally inadequate to meet the numerous demands, whims, and fancies of her ailing and exacting father. For five years, however, she battled bravely with adversity, stretching out their meagre income by her great efforts, although, because of her father’s helpless condition, and the constant and unremitting attention he required, she was prevented in many ways from employing her efforts to more advantage. That poor, dying man, when he had been in excellent health, had contributed to the enjoyment of the more affluent in society, and in turn had been courted by them. But now, feeling that he had been forgotten and was despised, he bitterly reviled this heartless world, which he had once unceasingly attempted fill with cheering and applause. To his bitter and disordered mind the possession of wealth became the goal of life and he attached inordinate value to gaining wealth, while he felt very bitter about his own comparative poverty. He loved his only child better than anything else in this world, except for himself. Naturally, he wanted to guard the child from the dreaded evil of a life of poverty. In his misguided efforts, during his latter days, he gained from her a solemn promise that she would never become the wife of any man who could not settle upon her a sum of at least one thousand pounds, without any strings being attached.

Bessie, was a happy and lively girl who had no intentions of suffering all the slights and privations that poverty brings to a person. She, therefore, saw no reason as to why she should not bind herself to this solemn promise to her father. Even after her father breathed his last, she said that she had made his worries about her vanish quite easily. Little Bessie half smiled, even in the middle of her mourning and natural sorrow, to think how small and easy a promise her poor father had gained from her, especially when her own opinions and views so perfectly coincided with his. The poor orphan girl was taken in by the mother of David Danvers, and she continued to live with that worthy lady until the latter died. It was beneath Mrs. Danvers’ roof that Bessie first became acquainted with Mr Worthington, and that acquaintance quickly ripened into a mutual and sincere attachment. He was poor and had no one to sponsor him, and he had not progressed much in the years since. There was absolutely no likelihood of ever having a thousand pounds that belonged to him alone, never mind a thousand pounds that he could settle on a wife. Of course, it is possible, that with all the chances and changes that come our way during our lifetime, Paul Worthington might eventually succeed to some wealth. There were, however, many twists and turns, as well as ups and downs between him and the opportunity of becoming rich. Paul, was not the type to push himself forward, or to gain at the expense of others, and little Bessie was like-minded.

Paul Worthington was very rich in something that money could not buy, and which cold not be quantified. He had a pure and devoted heart that held great love for one woman, but he bravely endured a life of loneliness and because of the circumstances in which he and his loved one found themselves. Such was Paul’s love that he did not see Bessie grow old and grey, because in his eyes, she never changed. She was, in his eyes, still a beautiful, graceful, and enchanting girl, who was his betrothed. On occasion he would leave his books, and his arduous clerical and parochial duties, just to gaze at into her soft eyes. Then he would press her tiny hand, whisper a fond word to her, and then he would return to his lonely home, where he would bury his sorrows in long bouts of study.

Anna McKenna had been sent to him as a ministering angel. She was the orphan and penniless daughter of Mr Worthington’s dearest friend and former college friend, and she had come to find a shelter beneath the humble roof of the pious guardian, to whose earthly care she had been solemnly left. Paul’s curacy was not far from the town where Bessie had fixed her resting-place. Most of those personal friends, who knew the secret of little Bessie’s history, also knew that she regarded Anna McKenna with special favour and affection, from the fact, that Anna enjoyed the privilege of comforting and cheering Paul Worthington’s declining years. Each of them spoke of her as a dear adopted daughter, and Anna equally returned the affection of both.

Those poor lonely people! They had known long and anxious years, separated by circumstance, and yet united in their bonds of enduring love! In my mind I pictured them at festive winter seasons, it their humble solitary homes; and in the height of summer, when song-birds and bright perfumed flowers call lovers out into the sunshine. They had not dared to rejoice during their long engagement and yet Bessie was a sociable creature, who did not mope or shut herself up, but chose to lead a life of active usefulness, and was a general favourite amongst everyone. They had never even thought about the possibility of them evading Bessie’s solemn promise to her dying father. To their minds, that fatal promise was as binding and stringent.

When we first met the little grey gossip, we had humoured ourselves at her expense. Now, however, we looked upon her as an object of interest, surrounded by a halo of romance, fully shared in by her charming and venerable lover. And this was good Cousin Con’s explanation of the riddle, which she told with many digressions, and with animated smiles, to conceal tears of sympathy. Paul Worthington and little Bessie did not like their history to be discussed by the younger generation, who scorned such things. For Paul and Bessie their sacrifice was so unworldly and very sacred, but they looked forward with a humble hope that soon they would be united for ever in a better place. It simply pained them terribly and distressed them to be made a topic of conversation.

If we had been telling fiction, it would have been easy for us to bring this elderly pair together, even at the eleventh hour. Love and constancy can make up for the absence of the one sweet ingredient that fades but is so beautiful, namely youth. But as this is a romance made in reality, we are compelled by circumstances to divulge facts as they actually occurred, and as we heard them from authentic sources. Paul and Bessie divided in their lives, are now laid side by side in the old church-yard. He went first, and Bessie changed her usual grey for more sombre clothing of a darker colour. But, that loving little soul did not remain long behind him. She left her property to Anna McKenna, and warned her against long engagements.

The last time that we heard about of Anna, she was the happy wife of an excellent man, who, fully complied with the opinion of the little gray gossip by protesting strenuously against a courtship lasting more than six weeks, and he carried his point triumphantly.

Letter from America

Wake up there, Jenny!” shouted Bridie Ferguson as she ran up to her neighbour’s door.

What in the name of Jaysus is wrong with ye?” replied Jenny Dunn.

Did you not hear the news?

What news? What’s it about?

Bridie shouted at the top of her voice, “Sure there’s a letter from Amerikay in the post-office.

“Wheesht, now! Don’t be daft!” answered Jenny

I’m telling you the truth, woman,” insisted Bridie Ferguson. “No word of lie! Micky Dunn brought word from the town this morning. He says that the letter is from Dessie McDowell to his old mother.

Oh, is that right? Well, now I know you’re telling lies! That dirty blackguard never had that much good in him from the day and hour he was born. He was always an idle, worthless ruffian, that was the ruination of every one he came in contact with. The dirty old——

Jaysus, Jenny, don’t be holding yourself back! But, let me tell you that you’re wrong this time,” Bridie told her. “The letter is from Dessie McDowell to his old mother, and it contains money, believe it or not!” Her friend Jenny looked at her in disbelief and listened to the rest of what Bridie had to say. She told how the postmistress had sent word that old Mrs. McDowell should bring some responsible person that might guarantee her identity. The old woman was a widow and the postmistress did not want to give the letter into the keeping of a frail old woman, especially when she did not know what might be inside the envelope. For the two greatest gossips in the area  the outstanding question was to discover how that well known reprobate of a son had managed even to get the price of writing paper.

Jenny told her friend that she had seen old Sharon McDowell borrow a clean coat from her neighbour, and that she had sent for Conn King and his car. Mr. King was the local solicitor, who was known to everyone in the town, both rich and poor. Conn was going with the old woman to verify that she was Sharon McDowell of  Tullybann, and the addressee of the letter from America. Bridie laughed at the idea, saying “That old crone is so well know that she could get every man, woman and child in the area to verify her identity. She didn’t need Conn King.

Dessie McDowell was the old woman’s only son, born to her when she was still freshly widowed. Sadly, Sharon’s husband had been killed by a falling tree before they had been married six months. All that was left to Sharon was her beautiful, curly-headed son and she lavished all her love upon him. She spoiled him terribly and as he grew up he became the greatest young hooligan in the parish. As a young boy he developed a knack for throwing stones, the results of which were gathered and reported back to his mother. There was not one day in his young life that passed without him earning the blame for a list of damages and disasters. There were complaints about the chickens and other birds he had maimed and killed with his stones, windows broken into smithereens, and children that had been cut or badly bruised. Dessie was simply a one boy disaster zone and all his poor mother could say was, “For Christ’s sake, what do you want me to do with him, for there is really no harm in my son, for it would do me no good?

village folk 1

The neighbours and townsfolk held their patience with young Dessie for quite a number of years, but finally decided that something would have to be done. Not wanting him to be sent to any delinquent centre, for Sharon’s sake, they came upon another way to resolve the problem. Although not a permanent solution, the tactic that they had agreed upon had the potential to keep him out of their way for the greater part of every day. The opportunity to enjoy that much of their lives in peace was a chance they could not turn down, and even the clergy were glad to agree since the solution might just converting Dessie from being the parish nuisance into a useful member of the community.

Each house in the parish agreed to give a small subscription every month, which would be used to send Dessie to the Christian Brothers’ School in the next town. The brothers were noted for their rigidness and for their teaching ability, as well as for their sports skills. Accordingly, Dessie left home and was sent to this new school for the next five or six years. There was peace in the Parish for these years and Dessie studied hard at all the subjects he was given. But, Dessie was not an academic and preferred to make things out of wood and metal, becoming so proficient that his poor mother was able to boast of his success. Even the neighbours began to think better of him and his teachers spoke highly of Dessie’s abilities. In fact many of the teachers suggested that if Dessie could keep his head down to work then he would be a man fit for the company of any lady in the district. Encouraged by such compliments, Dessie attempted to keep his head down and work hard, putting his talent for metal and woodwork to good use. But in doing all these things Dessie came to ruination.

It was the end of his school days and Dessie knew that the time had finally come for him to make his way in the world. His mother, in an effort to help him get a good steady job, obtained a position for her son as a labourer on the large tract of land owned by a prominent businessman from the town. But, when he heard about the job, and what it entailed, Dessie was not in the least bit pleased. Sharon thought she had gained for him a good start in life, but Dessie was speechless, at first, when she told him. He asked her, “For why, then, did I go to school mother? Is this the sort of job that you want for me, and me qualified for better?

Despite Sharon’s pleadings that he should not reject the offer out of hand, Dessie felt himself to be above such lowly work. He boldly told his mother that nothing but being a carpenter would satisfy his ambitions. People began to look at Dessie as a man who had  ideas above his station in life. But, Dessie didn’t really care what anyone thought of him, and there was one other person who agreed with such thoughts. In fact, is it not a strange phenomena that the most mischievous boys in town always seem to attract the prettiest girls. This is exactly what happened to Dessie McDowell. Unfortunately, for this young couple the young lady, Nancy Doran, had friends and family who were not prepared to quietly allow their relationship to continue unopposed. Undaunted, however, Dessie and Nancy were driven to carry on their relationship in secrecy.

 Driven by his great love for Nancy, Dessie urged Nancy her to elope with him. He believed that her family would, when they realised there was nothing else they could do, give Nancy enough money to set matters right with her. Nancy had not yet gathered enough courage or daring to elope with her man. She also, unfortunately, had not the courage to end the relationship with Dessie, or the increasing secrecy required for the relationship to continue. The affair was becoming increasingly more hopeless in her eyes and, as a result, she began to feel increasing sorrow and shame. Nancy’s bright eyes, that were once like a magnet to all the young men in the district, had now began to grow dim. Her once rosy cheeks, that had caused more than one suitor to write poems to her beauty, had now began to grow pale and sallow. Then, true to his old ways, Dessie had been less than a gentleman towards her and he was forced to flee the country to avoid the righteous and murderous anger of her family. He fled to America and safety, though it remains very much a mystery as to how had obtained the necessary finance. Now, after a period of almost a year and a half, a letter from him had arrived and there were many who hoped it would answer all their questions.

This story, as you must have realised, happened quite a number of years ago when travel to foreign parts was not the everyday event it is today for people. In those days America to be almost like a different planet, and there would be little chance of someone who went there ever returning home. You can imagine, therefore, the fuss and bother that a letter from America could  cause when it arrived in any small Irish village. The news that such a letter had arrived quickly became a matter of public interest to everyone in the village, and it was looked after almost as if it was valuable joint property. Country people generally regarded such a letter as being a general communication from neighbours abroad to all the neighbours at home, and hearing what such a letter contained was a matter of intense interest to all those who have seen a family member joining the numerous emigrants from this land. So it was with the letter Sharon received from America.

When she arrived back home, after retrieving her letter from the post office, the old widow found herself pursued by a cavalcade of her neighbours. Every inch of the cottage interior was full to capacity and the crowd overflowed on to the entire area outside the front of the house. The door and the windows of the cottage were were almost completely blocked up with various heads that strained in a vain effort to hear even a little of what was being read to Sharon. In a low voice the was read out, but many couldn’t hear because of the squabbles between individuals, as they tried to get a better place to listen from.

Damn you, Tom Burns, what the hell are you pushing me away for, sure I want to hear what’s happened with Dessie!

Ah, shut your beak, you eejit! Why wouldn’t I try to get in there to hear a letter about Sharon, sure isn’t she my sister-in-law?

Here boys! Does any of ye hear a word about my poor Paddy?” Biddy Casey called out from the back of the crowd.

For the past three years not a letter had come from America that Biddy had not gone to the addressee in the hope of getting some news about her husband,Paddy. He had been through some financially troubling times, which had caused him to become part of a trio of men who were rustling cattle and sheep. With the forces of law breathing down his neck, Paddy had gone to America to prepare a new life for his family. Regularly every market-day in town, Biddy went to the post-office and inquired if there was a letter from America addressed to her. But, week after week she received a negative answer, and her heart sank with despair. Biddy still attended the post office each market day, but could no longer ask the question, and only presented herself at the counter to receive the usual negative answer from the post-mistress. On some occasions she would turn her eyes to Heaven and pray, “God in heaven help me!”, as the tears flowed down her cheeks. From the day he left until the day Mrs. McDowell’s letter arrived, Biddy had never heard one word one word about her husband, or what had happened to him. The news contained in Sharon’s letter from America would give Biddy some closure on the labours and anxieties she had suffered since Paddy had left. Biddy learned that he was attracted to the city of New Orleans by the promise of high wages, but he met his end in the the deadly swamps that surround the city.

But, Dessie McDowell’s letter contained news for others. One such person was a red-cheeked lady called Peggy Dillon and, after getting her news, she elbowed her way out of the cottage and into the fresh air. She had tears in her eyes but, from the expression on her face, these were undoubtedly tears of joy.

Well, Peggy? Is there any news of your Bridie?” came the questions from the crowd that was gathered outside the cottage. “From the smile on your face, Peggy, it must be good news.

Oh, sure its great news!” Peggy answered delightedly. “Bridie has a wonderful fine place for herself in America and another for me. She even has my passage paid and in five weeks I’ll be away myself. Woo! Woo!  I’m so excited that I don’t know what to do with myself!”

It was, indeed, good news for Peggy Dillon, but others sought news for themselves from the letter. “Peggy darlin’, was there any news about our Mick?” asked someone from the crowd.

Or our Sally? Our Johnny? Or our wee George,” came other questions with which she was inundated.

Oh, I don’t know, I just don’t know. I couldn’t listen with the joy I felt in getting news of Bridie,” replied Peggy

Then, one more spoke out to her to ask he a very pertinent question, “But, Peggy darling, what will Tom Feeny think of all this? Do you just ignore all those vows and promises that you and he made to each other when you were coming home from the dance the other night?

Peggy did not worry about such questions, for she knew exactly what was going to happen. With the very first money that she earned in America, Peggy would send it to the care of the Parish Priest to pay Tom’s passage out to her. She was sure that the Parish Priest would help if she assured him that she and Tom would be married as soon as he set foot on American soil.

 As Peggy walked away with a huge smile across her face another happy face emerged from McDowell’s cottage. It was old Malachy Tighe and he was clasping his hands, together as he looked up toward heaven, silently thanking God for the good news he had received. His son, his pride and joy, was going to be home with him before harvest time, with as much money as would buy another bit of land. His son’s wife threw her arms around her father-in-law when she heard the news from him, and his grandchildren jumped around, screaming with delight. “It’s good news Malachy, Johnny is coming home!” the neighbours celebrated and wished him well.

As usual in these things not everyone would be destined to hear good news. There was a message from Mick Finn to his sweetheart, Susie, telling her that he would soon have her fare gathered and would be sending it on to her. Unfortunately, Susie was not going to hear the message, for she took very ill a couple of months earlier and died. It was six weeks since the poor girl passed away and the family had brought her to her last resting place in the cemetery at St. John’s Church. There in her grave Susie lay, and the daisies had already taken root, blooming there in the fresh air as beautiful as she had once been. Mick Finn’s words, however, had brought back the heartache and tears the family had shed in the days and weeks that had passed since her untimely demise.

Johnny Gallagher has got himself married to a girl from Cork, who has a bucketful of money behind her,” they read from the letter and Big Nancy Mulroy burst out laughing. Everyone had thought, before Johnny went to America, that he and Nancy would have wed, or at the least engaged. She was a tall well-built girl that no man in the district would dare to cross and this laughter was simply her attempt to deny how she truly felt. Although she wished him good luck, Nancy just wanted to get her hands on the eejit. There had been talk that Johnny had only gone to America in the first place to get away from Nancy, and she now wondered if these rumours were true. This letter  had been Johnny’s first convenient opportunity to break her heart.

While the letter was being read out there were quite a few listeners, who had become increasingly curious about the absence of Nancy Doran. She, after all, should have been the one most interested in the fate of Dessie McDowell, and yet she was nowhere to be seen. Nancy, however, was not far away and was sitting in the dilapidated cottage into which she had been forced to move when her family threw her out of the house. She had been pregnant to Dessie before he left and her father was incensed by the shame he believed she had brought to the family. As Dessie’s letter was being read, Nancy was sitting at  her kitchen table with a pile of sewing, which provided the income she needed to support her and her baby. Every now and again she gave a sob, which would almost waken the baby asleep in the box beside her, though she tried to hide it. Nancy’s mother had quietly visited her daughter without the knowledge of her husband, and was seated on the hearth, angrily berating Nancy for feeling sorry for herself.

Will you stop your weeping,” the mother told her daughter, “Get a bit of back bone, girl. It’s something that you have never had, because if you did have it you wouldn’t have gotten yourself  into trouble with the likes of Dessie McDowell.”

Mother, please,” Nancy answered the sufferer, “don’t always be condemning me. Is it not bad enough that I must sit here quietly, while his letter is being read out only a few doors away?

Well then, go to McDowell’s cottage and beg them to let you read it,” her mother told her angrily. “Go there, darling girl and find out for yourself how little thought he has for you, or the trouble he left behind him.”

It’s not for me, mother, no, not just for myself,” Nancy sobbed. “I can live without his thoughts or favours, but I would just like to know what he has said about the baby.

“Ah, be quiet!” exclaimed the mother. “You are always trying to get me to think about the whole bad situation. Wait ’til I tell you Nancy that I have never felt hatred for someone so badly as I do now. Please be quiet, I tell you.

You just have a very hard heart, mother,” Nancy told her.

You have no place to talk dear,” replied the mother. “If your own heart had been a little bit harder, darling, your family wouldn’t have to walk away with their heads down every time that your name is spoken.

A fresh burst of tears was all the answer that Nancy could give to this. It was an answer, however, that only caused an increase in Mrs. Doran’s wrath and lower the tone of her words. She had heard about the letter and had visited Nancy to persuade he to assume an air of quiet nonchalance, to demonstrate to neighbours that she had a “back-bone” in her character. It was obvious that Nancy had failed in her objective, and now Mrs. Doran directed her anger and frustration towards Nancy. In response, Nancy’s sorrow became louder, and, between crying and the shouting, the child was awakened from its sleep and began to add its bit to the general clamour. The noise did not lessen one little bit until a crowd unexpectedly gathered at the door Nancy’s dilapidated cottage and the voice of Sharon McDowell could be heard shouting joyfully over the din.

Well, if the girl won’t come to us, ”Sharon called out to the crowd, “then we must go to her. After all, this news, is worth hearing!” Then, before another word was spoken Sharon, and a crowd of people, had made their way through the door without knocking, or asking permission to enter.

God save all here,” old Sharon greeted them, “including yourself, Mrs. Doran. After all we must now forgive and forget all that has kept us divided.”

And if I forgive and forget, what do I get in exchange?” asked  an angry Mrs. Doran.

It’s good news and much to be thankful for,” said old Sharon as she revealed the letter. But, for her part, Mrs. Doran was in no mood to listen to any news from the letter, be it good or bad. She rose up from where she was seated, gathered her belongings and haughtily pushed her way through the growing crowd. There was no word of goodbye to Nancy or the baby as she stormed out of the cottage.

Cheerio, then, may the sun shine on your back,” said Sharon as she recovered from the undisguised contempt Mrs. Doran had shown toward her. “Away on with, and if you never come back, it’ll be no great loss, for there’s not one word about you in the letter, you old serpent,” Sharon called out to her and then she turned to Nancy and the baby.

Now, Nancy, you and I should spend the whole of the day down upon our knees giving thanks, even though you thought the letter not worth your time,” said Sharon, and Nancy went down  down on her knees clasping the baby close to her bosom. She raised her eyes to heaven and, oblivious to the crowd and commotion, with every nerve in her body trembling with excitement and joy, Nancy waited for old Sharon to ready a seat for the letter reader near to the window. As the reader settled himself into the seat, the old widow called out for silence and gave the letter over for it to be read out to the crowd for about the sixth time.

Dessie had grown to realise that survival in America was very much dependent upon his character, and he became very wary of not doing anything that might affect his character badly, even by the slightest degree. He was a changed man now; no longer an utter idiot, but a man of honour and integrity. All the while he never forgot Nancy Doran, nor his old mother, whom he had left behind him in Ireland. Images and thoughts of Nancy filled his dreams with such intensity that Dessie immediately began to put aside a little money every week so that he could send it to her, but he was ashamed to write to her until he had the total amount gathered. Unfortunately for Dessie his efforts were cut short and the money he had accumulated  was used for his own subsistence. The event which had brought about this misfortune was the sudden death of the owner of the grocery business for which he worked. The unexpected death of the man who managed the entire concern caused the entire business to break up, and Dessie was once again unemployed. He found it very difficult to get another job and his small amount of savings was soon exhausted. Dessie decided it would be better to get out of the bulging city of New York and move westward, where labour was more plentiful and there were less people chasing each job.

Dessie travelled widely getting casual work as he went until, at length, he met a friend who had been one of the partners in the grocery business that had first given him a job. This man had money, but, he did not have the education or business acumen to put it to profitable use. He had no knowledge of reading, writing, or arithmetic. Now, these happened to be a specific talent that Dessie had cultivated when at school. One day, while talking to Dessie, he bemoaned his lack of a sound education which prevented him from using his capital to good effect, and Dessie very modestly suggested one way in which he could put his money to profitable use. After a little consideration of Dessie’s idea he invested his money and in a very few days a grand new store appeared in the town in which they now lived. Dessie became the book-keeper for the business, and was rewarded with a junior partnership in the business.

In the latter half of the letter he gave thanks for the education he had been given and the faith that his mother had handed on to him. Dessie then told her to take hold of the large amount of money that he had sent with the letter. He told his old mother to keep half for herself to make her  old days comfortable, or to use it to pay her passage out to him in America. The remainder, he told her, was to be given to Nancy, the girl of his dreams who had suffered so much because of him, and he wanted to assure her that he would spend the rest of his life making it up to her and their child. H said that he would expect her in New York by the end of the month, and that Nancy was to immediately purchase a gold wedding ring, which she should place on her finger at once, without waiting for the priest. “I’m her sworn husband already,” he wrote, “and I will bring her straight to the priest the minute she puts her foot on American soil.” He added that they should write to him giving the date and means of travel, and named the place where they should meet. As a final surprise he told his mother, “When you write to me, address the letter to Desmond McDowell Esq. for that is what I am now, and I’m not kidding you.” The letter finally closed with Dessie wishing his mother and all the neighbours, “good luck.”

There was a loud cheer from the crowd as the reader finished the letter and they all rushed forward to congratulate Nancy and her infant. Old Sharon whispered in her ear, “It’s very hard to spoil an Irishman entirely, if there is any good at all in him.

The Blarney Part II

Final Part

With the reader now having been shown the state of Eddie’s feelings for Nelly, we can leave these two companions as they once again resume their work. It is time I think that the reader should better know Miss Nelly Malone, for love of whom poor Eddie had tasted the wonders of the ancient Greek Muses.

In a neat little room that totally reflected the unmistakable evidence of a tidy woman’s care, sat the young lady in question. She busied herself, with her delicate, little fingers working with speed as she knitted a very small cardigan for herself. In that humble place there was no trace of wealth to be seen in this humble abode, but there was more than a suggestion of comfort there. At the open window blossoms of the honey-suckle and the sweet-pea peeped in, filling the air with a perfume, more beautiful than any parfumier could ever devise. On the walls hung small artless prints, and here and there a ballad was framed, which spoke of some heart-breaking subject. One ballad was the infamous ‘Highwayman’s End”, which began adventurously with:

“I robbed Lord Mansfield,

I do declare,

And Lady Somebody in Grosvenor

Square,”

Elsewhere shelves and small tables were decorated with festoons of ribbons and cloth of the most colourful and dazzling variety. In a small open cage of was perched a fine, plump, contented lark, in an open cage, which he entertained the girl with its wild, sweet song. Dozing quietly upon the window-sill lay a beautiful sleek cat, whose furry coat shone like satin in the sun’s rays, purring softly and indicating that it was a very happy pussy. That house echoed with the innocence and beauty, that was Nelly Malone.

What thoughts, you wonder, were passing through that pretty Nelly’s head?  Perhaps a There may have been some anxiety, or even some doubts, but there was no evidence of sorrow to dull the brightness of her lovely face. She speaks quietly to her cat, which is her most discreet confidante, as well as her most loved pet. “It’s foolishness, so it is. Don’t you agree puss?”

The cat didn’t show any sign of having heard or understood Nelly’s remark. “Now, Minnie, I ask you, isn’t it a terrible mistake? The most terrible mistake of all to be thinking about someone who gives absolutely no thought for me? I will not allow myself to do this anymore. Definitely not! Though I do wonder if holds any love for me? I somehow fancy he does, and yet again if he does, why can he not just say? There is one thing that is certain, which is, that I don’t love him! I mean to say, I won’t love him. Sure, what kind of an eejit would I be if I gave my heart to someone who wouldn’t give me his heart in return? That would be a really bad bargain, wouldn’t it, Minnie?”

The Pussycat remained quiet and Nelly took this as a sign that Minnie agreed with her.”But, oh!” Nelly continued, “if I thought that he did love me, silly me I’ve dropped a stitch. What in the name of all that’s holy am I thinking’ of? I mustn’t give way to such girlish foolishness. The little is done with her singing, and Minnie is giving me an angry stare out of her big eyes. Don’t be jealous, Minnie, you shall always have your saucer of milk, whatever happens, and — listen now! That’s his step, and he’s coming! I wonder how do I look,” and running to her little hand mirror, Nelly, with very understandable vanity, thought that there could be no improvement on her features. Nelly was not being narcissistic about her beauty because, curiously she was entirely right.

“He’s taking long time coming in,” she thought as she stole a quick glance through the white window-curtain. She saw Eddie approaching the garden gate slowly. Nelly, of course, just wanted to rush out to the gate to meet him, but such a thing would have appeared unseemly to her neighbours and she waited. For a moment she saw Eddie hesitate, but it was only to allow him to gulp in a few lungs-full of breath. He began to walk again, and he came closer to the house with every approaching step. Nelly could feel her pulse beat at a much higher rate, and she began to think that it might look better if he was to see her at work. With this thought in her mind she hastily took up her work, which was twisted and ravelled into almost inextricable confusion. Trying to maintain a calm face she mechanically employed her needles, and her heart gave a slight shiver as Eddie gave the door a short, nervous rap. Nelly opened it with a most deceitful, “Ah! Ned, is that you? Who would have thought it! Come in, sure.”

Inside Nelly, her feelings were at fever pitch, and yet she forced herself to remain cold and unattached, saying, “Take a chair, Eddie, won’t you?”

And there, sitting opposite each other, were two people, whose hearts yearned for each other. They looked at each other coldly, gazed at the wall, the floor, cat, or the lark. Eddie quite suddenly discovered something that needed some of his attention in the band of his hat. At the same time, Nelly suddenly began to show an extraordinary degree of affection toward the cat. In truth, it was evident to even the most casual observer that they were both very far from comfortable.

Eddie had thoroughly made up his mind to speak to Nelly this time, irrespective of the outcome, and had even gone so far as to have rehearsed his opening speech. But Nelly’s cold and indifferent attitude had frightened every word out of his head, and now it was essential that he should recover his senses. Eddie, however, seemed to think that twisting his hat into every possible shape, and tugging at the band, were the only possible means by which this could be accomplished. Once again all was arranged in his head, and he had just cleared his throat to begin talking, when the rascally cat turned sharply round and stared him straight in the face. In all his life, Eddie thought, he had never seen a dumb creature express such thorough contempt in its face.

“It well becomes me,” he thought, “to be demeaning myself before the cat,” and once again his thoughts away flew out of his head. Of course, all this was very perplexing to Nelly, who, in the expectation of hearing something interesting, remained patiently silent. There was another considerable pause until, at last, remembering his friend Mick’s advice, and cheered by a most encouraging smile from the rapidly-thawing Nelly, Eddie wound up all his feelings for one desperate effort, and blurted out, “Isn’t it fine today, Miss Malone?”

Breaking the silence so suddenly he caused Nelly to jump in her chair, while the lark fluttered in the little cage, and the pussycat made one leap back into the garden. Amazed and terrified by the results of his first effort, Eddie’s mouth went dry and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He saw little hope of discovering an easy way of overcoming his embarrassment, and the more he stuttered and stammered the deeper he got himself into a sticky situation. Finally, gathering himself together, Eddie made a dash through the door, and was off as fast as his legs would carry him. Nelly sighed with disappointment as she sat down to resume her knitting, and this time she felt very sad.

“Well, what happened?” asked Mick, as, nearly out of breath from running, Eddie joined up with him again in the meadow. “Have you broken the ice?”

“I have, certainly,” said Eddie, “and, better than that, I fell into the water through the hole.”

“Why? Would she not listen to you?”

“Yes, she would, but sure I didn’t give her a chance. My usual complaint returned to me very strongly. Christ’s sake! What’s the use in having a tongue in your head at all, if it won’t speak the words that a man needs to say. Aren’t I the great fool; a right eejit? She was sitting there, Mick, looking out at me from those big beautiful eyes. It was if she was asking me to speak out like a man, and her smiling softly, spreading over her lovely face, and playing among her beautiful dimples, like a merry moonbeam dancing on a lake. Oh, dear God! Mick, what am I going to do? I can’t live without her, and I haven’t the heart to tell her that.”

“Well, it is a terrible thing to see,” replied Mick, “a good-looking man such as yourself, strong and healthy, flinching from a pretty girl. Do you not think that it might do you a bit of good to go and kiss the Blarney Stone.”?

“That’s it!” exclaimed Eddie, joyously clapping his hands together. Clicking his fingers together loudly he declared, “Isn’t it a wonder that I never thought of it before? Sure, I’ll walk every inch of the way to it, though my legs should drop off before I got halfway there. Do you think it would do me good to kiss it?”

“I’d be certain of it! Sure, it was never known to fail yet,” said Mick, excitedly.

“Why, then, may I never eat another meal, if there is any truth in that stone, and if I don’t have the magic out of it.” And that very night, so eager was Eddie to get cured of his shyness that he set out for Blarney Castle immediately. It was a long and tedious journey, but the thought of being able to speak to Nelly when he returned, was sufficient to drive away his tiredness and gave him the determination to reach that far-famed castle, of which it is said,

On the top of whose wall,

But take care you don’t fall,

There’s a stone that contains all the

Blarney!”

 

Eddie climbed with caution, discovered the exact spot, and believing implicitly that his troubles were now over, he knelt, and with a whole-hearted prayer for his absent Nelly, he reverently kissed ‘The Blarney Stone.’ A true and devoted sense of love had given him the strength to overcome the difficulties of access to the stone, while his imagination did the rest. It was with a degree of humility and diffidence that he had approached the object of his pilgrimage. With the task achieved, Eddie descended from the stone’s location with his head erect and with a joyful expression on his face. He could feel confident now to tell his deepest feelings in Nelly’s ear. He was now very much a changed man and, as he left the castle, he encountered a very pretty girl, who officiated as guide. It was said that upon her pouting lips many men checked out how well the charm had worked. Not surprisingly, when she met Eddie at the archway of the castle, he took the opportunity to give her a hearty kiss. He astonished himself as much as he had the girl, and standing aback for a moment he watched the effect his kiss had., much more to his own astonishment than to hers, gave her a hearty kiss, starting back to watch the effect. There was no frown on her face, and there wasn’t even a sign of a blush in her cheeks. Eddie was utterly delighted that his wish had come true. “He could kiss whoever he pleased with his gift of the Blarney,” and feeling supremely happy, he did not lose another moment retracing his steps back home.

In the meantime, Nelly had been missing her shy sweetheart, whose absence had only served to strengthen the feeling of affection which she held for him. Day followed day as she waited for him and he did not come to her. Every long hour of watching and waiting for him tightened even more closely the chains of love that held her heart. Now, for the first time, she admitted to herself that he was essential to her future happiness, and she prayed fervently that the next day might see him return to her side. But, as each day passed, and his absence continued, Nelly quickly grew anxious until that anxiety turned into alarm.

The dark cloud of jealousy soon began to cover her heart and she became wretched in her impatience. Although she tried to convince herself that all her dark thoughts were unnecessary, the light that had once illuminated her life was almost extinguished and there appeared to be only gloom surrounding her. The once lively Lark in its cage appeared to share the young woman’s mood, its wing drooped, and its once happy song was silent. Her entire environment appeared to be greatly influenced by the spirit of the hour, and her once homely room began to feel cold, comfortless and solitary. Nelly’s love for Eddie was all consuming, filled with devotion and intensity. She believed that if she were to lose him it would be, effectively, the loss of everything that rendered life worth living for.

Every day she gazed out of her window in the faint hope of seeing something of her beloved, and one day her heart suddenly jumped in her breast with a new-found joy. She thought that she saw him approach, and her heart filled to bursting with joy that Eddie had finally returned to her. But, as she watched, she noticed that there was something very different about this man. At first, Nelly thought that her eyes had deceived, but her heart told her that it was indeed Eddie who was approaching.

What had confused Nelly was that the man who was approaching had not the downcast look and hesitating step that was common with Eddie. Instead, there was a joy in his face, a great smile on his mouth, and he walked with a new easy, lively, and careless gait. As he came nearer to her, Nelly thought that she heard him sing. When she realised that he was singing, Nelly was completely taken aback. She wondered if Eddie had finally broken out of his shell of reserve, and what this would mean for her. She had loved Eddie’s shyness and she was not sure if she wanted him to lose that, and yet there was something very impressive about the man coming toward her. It was now Nelly’s turn to be tongue-tied and stricken dumb. Despite her best efforts she could not utter a syllable, but trembling to her very core, Nelly sat silently in her room awaiting the moment she feared would prove to be the end of her happiness.

Whistling a merry tune, Eddie easily jumped over the little paling fence, and in a moment found himself in face to face with Nelly. She still could not speak, or move and his first greeting to her did not make Nelly feel any easier. “Nelly,” said he, “you drove me to it, but it’s done now! It’s done!”

“What’s done? What can he mean?” thought a greatly agitated Nelly.

“It’s all over now,” he continued, “for I’ve kissed it. Don’t you hear me, Nelly? I say I’ve kissed it.”

“In heaven’s name,” cried the pale, trembling girl, “what do you mean, Eddie. Who have you kissed?”

“It’s not a who!” said Eddie, laughing loudly, “but an it! I’ve kissed it!”

“Kissed what?”

“The Blarney Stone, of course,” Eddie screamed at her, throwing his cap at the cat and danced a few light steps in delight. It was something that Nelly would never have thought she would see from Eddie. Anyone else who saw him conducting himself in this manner would have sworn that the man had gone insane. “Sure, I did it all for you, Nelly, my darling! Just for you! It has loosened my tongue, and now I can tell you how deeply my love for you burns within my very heart of hearts. I love you so much, my bright-eyed, beautiful darling!”

There is really no need for me to relate anything more that was said between the two. The world famous ‘Blarney Stone’ had lost none of its magic on this particular occasion, and continues to transfer that magic even today. Nelly, of course, went on to inform Eddie that, “You needn’t have gone so far!” The fact is that by perseverance the path of true love can run very smoothly. Three weeks after his return from ‘The Blarney Stone’ the chapel bells rang out across the parish to announce the wedding of Eddie and Nelly. The course of true love sometimes does run smooth, a great authority to the contrary, nevertheless, for in about three weeks’ time, the chapel bells rang merrily for the wedding of Edward and Nelly. It was a great day, enjoyed by all, and what’s more, neither of them had cause to regret Eddie’s visit to ‘The Blarney Stone’.

The Blarney Part I

It is said by many that a sweet-talking Irishman has a “Touch of the Blarney”, a gift of speaking given to him because he has kissed the ‘Blarney Stone’. The following verse I once heard, but I cannot recall the person who wrote it, and I offer it to the readers as a basic introduction to the story that follows it.

“Oh, did you ne’er hear of the

Blarney,

‘Tis found near the banks of

Killarney,

Believe it from me, no girl’s heart is

free,

Once she hears the sweet sound of

the Blarney.”

 

“Ah! Dear God, Mick! You can talk and advise me until I’m blue in the face, but it still won’t matter for I just cannot do it. That, my friend, is just the long and the short of it.”

“Would you just listen to him, surely you are not one of these bashful types are you, Eddie?”

“It’s true Mick! I’m afraid it all true.”

“Have you gone completely mad? You know that they’ll put into a museum along with other rare creatures like mermaids and Dodo-Birds! A bashful Irish man! Sure, nothing like it has ever been heard of, never mind been seen.”

“Aye, so they say. But, friend, I have caught the complaint anyway.”

“Well! May my arse trail the ground if ever I have heard the likes of this from a friend of mine!  It makes me worry about the future of our race, for if modesty gets a hold among us Irish it will be the ruin of us altogether. I shouldn’t surprise me that some of them damned English men have inoculated us with this affliction, as they travelled through our country. Now, Eddie, tell me what does it feel like when you are blushing?”

“Ah! Mick, now don’t you be laughing at me and making fun. Sure, there is none of us can help having a weakness. Anyway, it is only when I am with her that my heart seems to melt away entirely.”

“Never mind, my friend. Sure, it’s only a good man, like you, who can feel like that anyway. And so, pretty Nelly has put the spell on you and taken over your senses?”

“You could well say that, Mick, for its not one bit of sense do I have left. Sometimes I wonder if I ever possessed even an ounce of sense in my body. Do you know, Mick, no joking, but isn’t it a mighty odd thing that I can’t get my usually big mouth to utter a single word out of my head when I see her looking at me? Did you ever see Nelly’s eye, Mick?”

“I’ve seen them hundreds of times.”

“Maybe that isn’t an eye?”

“Maybe there isn’t a pair of them, now that I think on it?”

“As sure as there is an eye in a goat, I have never seen such wicked-looking innocence in the eyes of a Christian person before.  At least there is no one that I can remember.”

“Sure, man dear, it’s only right that you should think like that, Eddie.”

“Oh! Mick, the joy that beams out of those eyes, when she’s happy, is to me as good as that wonderful warm feeling you get from the softest sun-ray that ever made the world smile. But when she’s sad, oh, Christ, Christ, Mick! When those watery jewels flutter about her silken eye-lashes, or they flow slowly down upon her downy cheek, like dew upon a rose-leaf, who in the name of God could endure it? It’s as much as I can do to stand up before those merry glances, but when her eyes take to the water, then by all the powers of heaven, it bothers my heart out an’ out and I don’t know what to do.”

“Fair Play, Eddie.”

“And then there is her mouth! Did you ever see Nelly’s mouth, Mick?”

“I’ve only seen it from a distance, Eddie.”

“Well, that’s what I call a real mouth, Mick. It’s not like all those other mouths that are only to pile food and drink into. Her mouth is a soft-talking, sweet-loving mouth, with her kisses growing in tempting clusters about it, which none dare have the cheek to pluck off. Isn’t that right, Mick?”

“Now, be quiet for a while Eddie. Hold your tongue.”

“I will tell you, Mick, that if Nelly’s heart isn’t the very bed of love, why then Cupid is a total gobshite, that’s all. And then her teeth! Did you ever take notice of those teeth? I tell you that even the best pearls are simple paving-stones compared to Nelly’s teeth. Oh, how they do gleam and flash, as her beautiful round red lips part to let out a voice that is just so soft and sweet, almost like honey. Every word she speaks slips into the soul of a man, whether he likes it or not. Oh! Mike, Mike, there is absolutely no use in talking. If that woman isn’t an angel, she ought to be, and that’s all.”

“Jaysus, you really have fallen for this girl in a big way, Eddie, and that’s a fact. It’s a wonderful thing to see the talent that a boy can develop for talking such nonsense when his soft emotions get stirring in his head. Tell me, Eddie, have you ever spoken to her?”

“What? How could I? Sure, wasn’t I too busy listening to her? But, in all honesty, and between you and me, the truth of the matter is, I just couldn’t do it. Whether it was that she had bewitched me, or that my senses had got completely drowned with drinking in all her charms, making me stammer and stutter like a child, I don’t know! But every time that I attempted to say something to her, my tongue, may the devil take it, twisted and turned itself into knots, and sure devil the word would it say for itself, bad or good.”

“Well, now, allow me to think for a moment, and let me give you a wee bit of advice, Eddie. The next time you see that girl, just take it easy. Keep your feelings in check! Put a big stone on them and simply ask her about the weather. Your problem is, you see, that you want to pour out all you have to say at once, and your throat is too small and narrow to let it all through.”

“Be patient and cool, sure that’s good advice, Mick, if I can but follow it. This love is a great and troublesome affection, isn’t it?”

“It’s tremendous, Eddie. I had it once myself.”

“How did you catch it?”

“I didn’t catch it at all. I took to it naturally.”

“And did you ever get cured, Mick? Tell me.”

“I was completely cured.”

“How did that happen?”

“I got married.”

“Oh God, let’s just go to work.”

From this conversation between two friends, Mick Riley and Eddie Flynn, it is quite clear that fabled Cupid’s arrow, “Feathered with pleasure and tipped with pain,” had firmly embedded itself in Eddie’s heart. Putting it plain and simple, Eddie Flynn was completely infatuated with Miss Nelly Malone. During a rest period at work they had indulged in this discussion and, when the conversation was ended, the two men resumed their mowing. Mick, the settled “married man” began to hum a sprightly air, which kept time to the stroke of his scythe. Meanwhile, the love-struck Eddie joined in, every now and then, with strictly orthodox sighs as an accompaniment.

It certainly was a most clear signal of just how strongly attracted Eddie was to pretty Nell. There was never a more noble heart that ever beat than the honest, manly heart that now throbbed with the first pangs of a passion that was both pure and unselfish. After an hour or two of labour, the two men rested again. Eddie was feeling rather sad and he remained silent. There is something within Irish men that makes them regard suffering as sacred and, having respect for this suffering in his friend, Mick also kept quiet. Finally, Eddie looked up. He was still a little downcast and there was a sheepish expression on his face, but there was the slight trace of a smile that crept across his lips as he said, “Mick, do you know what?”

“What?” said Mick.

“I’ve written a bit of a song about Nelly.”

You didn’t,” smiled Mick, with an ambiguity in his voice that made it obvious that he believed his friend. “Is it a song?” he asked tactfully, “Sure why shouldn’t you? Haven’t you the great heart of a poet, and the ability to write songs that are as good as anyone else’s? Give us a wee blast of it, Eddie.”

“Damn the bit of it will I sing! Sure, you’ll only laugh at me, Mick.”

“Me? Not at all, Eddie!” replied Mick in such a manner that Eddie was convinced that his friend would not make fun of his efforts to sing. After pausing for a minute or two to prepare, Eddie cleared his throat nervously and, with a fine, clear voice, he began to sing:

blarneystone“All you sporting young heroes, with

hearts so light and free,

Take care how you come near

the town of Tralee;

For the witch of all witches that

ever wove a spell

In the town of Tralee, at this moment

does dwell.

 

“Oh, then, don’t venture near her, be

warned by me,

For the devil all out is the Rose of

Tralee.

 

“She’s as soft and as bright as a

young summer morn,

Her breath’s like the breeze

from the fresh blossomed thorn,

Her cheek has the sea shell’s pale

delicate hue,

And her lips are like rose leaves just

bathed in the dew;

 

“So, then, don’t venture near her, be

warned by me,

For she’s mighty destructive, this

Rose of Tralee.

 

“Oh! her eyes of dark blue, they so

heavenly are

Like the night sky of summer,

and each holds a star;

Were her tongue mute as silence,

man’s life they’d control;

But eyes and tongue both are too

much for one’s soul.

 

“Young men, stay at home, then,

and leave her to me,

For I’d die with delight for the Rose

of Tralee.”

Tobacco Road Part IV

(final)

Paddy was in shock at the man’s meagre offer. He had hoped to at least double his investment, but he now saw a huge loss being the only results of his dealings. “O, my darling Jenny!” Paddy began to cry, swinging his body from side to side in his grief, “My sweet Jenny! What will you say to your man, after him throwing away a half year’s rent that should have been given to the agent? O! what will you say, sweet heart, but that I made one stupid eejit of myself, for listening to Shane Fee, that lousy schemer! And what shall our wee Sheila say when I when I won’t be able to give her a dowry and when Tim Murphy won’t take her without the cows that I won’t have to give her? O, Mister Parsons will you not show me some mercyand don’t short change or cheat me for God’s sake? Give me the ten pounds that it cost me, and I’ll pray for your soul, always. O! Jenny, Jenny, I’ll never be able to face you, or Sheila, or any of our neighbours again. At least not without the ten pound note.”

Well, if you don’t give me your tobacco for less than that, you can call on Mr. Burton, at the other side of the bridge. He deals in such goods too. Although I cannot do more for you, you could go farther but you might also fare worse,” warned Mister Parsons and directed Paddy to Mr. Burton, who was, in fact, the excise officer.

smugglers 2Feeling very deflated by his experience with Mister Parsons, Paddy cautiously proceeded across the bridge until he reached a house with a big green door and a brass knocker. Paddy hesitated when he saw that the building was not a shop, or advertised any business enterprise. When assured that this was indeed the house of Mr. Burton, he went up to the door, and gave the door three loud knocks with the butt end of his Blackthorn stick. The knocks were so loud they could have awakened the dead, but it had the desired effect of rousing Mister Burton, who was angered at the loudness of the rapping and went to see just who had created it. “In the name of God, man, are you wanting to break my door down with that brass knocker, or what?”

Ah sure, I’m sorry for being so noisy,” said Paddy as he removed his broad-brimmed hat, and tried to hurriedly shine his shoes on the backs of his trouser legs. “I’ve never seen such a large knocker on a door before this night, and sure I wouldn’t have troubled you at all, only I have some fine goods that I have been told would suit you. You can have it for next to nothing, because I don’t have the heart to go on any farther. My pony is almost done and I’m shite scared of being caught by the guager.”

May I just ask you, who sent you here to sell smuggled tobacco?” asked the astonished guager.

An honest man, but a bad buyer, who trades the other side of the bridge. He would only give me five pounds for what cost me ten pounds. I wish I had never started all of this! I put a half year’s rent into this! My thirteen female children and my poor wife, God help them, will be soon be out on the roads. I’ll never go home without the ten pounds in my pocket. Damn to you, Shane Fee, you sickly faced blackguard, that brought me into smuggling. O! Jenny, I will have to go soldiering with a gun an my shoulder.”

Shane Fee!” exclaimed the excise man. “Do you know Shane Fee? I’d give ten pounds just to see that villain.”I do sir, and it is myself who could put your finger on him, if I had you in Ballintree. But, just I was leaving the place, he was lying under an old quilt, and I heard him telling someone that the priest said he had spotted fever enough for a thousand men.”That villain will never die of the spotted fever, in my humble opinion,” said the guager.

You’re a good judge, sir. Sure, didn’t I hear the rogue himself say, ‘Bad luck to that thief of a priest, and him telling me that I would die of a stoppage of breath!’ But won’t you just allow me to turn in the wee bit of tobacco?”

The excise man was now extremely angry at the underhand way that Mister Parsons would attempt to bring ruin to this wee man, just because he didn’t get his way. Mr. Burton was now determined to punish that crook’s treachery. “Listen to me, wee man,” he said to Paddy, “I am the exciseman that you dread so much, and I am sworn to do my duty, and confiscate that bit of tobacco. But, it is common justice that the treacherous blackguard that sent you here should be punished. Go back to him now, quickly, and tell him that he can have the lot at his at his own terms. I will be close behind you, and give him the proper reward for his treachery. Do this job right, and I promise, on my word, that I shall give you ten pounds more, and you will make the profit you need.”Paddy threw himself to his knees, and lifted his hands in prayer, but he could not speak. The terror and delight of this moment, however, made him unable to utter a sound.

Get up, I say,” exclaimed the excise man, “up now and get going. Go now and earn your ten pounds, while getting a sweet revenge on the thief that betrayed you.”Paddy rapidly made his way back to Mr. Parson’s shop, muttering a prayer of thanksgiving beneath his breath, “What a real gentleman, and may the Lord make his soul a comfortable bed in Heaven.” Then he turned his mind to Mr. Parsons, muttering, “Now, that cheating villain of a man. He thought he was sending the fox to mind the hens sure enough. May he be hung high, the blackguard and informer. He’ll suffer for his sins this day.”

When they met again Mister Parsons asked Paddy, “Have you seen that gentleman I sent you to?”Ah, sir, when I came to the bridge an looked about me, I began to suspect everyone I met was a thief or a guager. Then, after I stood there a while, quite distracted with fear and nerves, and I forgot the man’s name. So I came back again to ask you, if you would please …”You had better take the five pounds I offered if you don’t want any more bother. There’s a guager in town, and your situation, therefore, is very dangerous.”Oh my God, a guager in town!” cried Paddy. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, what’ll I do now? I’m done, surely to God. Take it for what you like, and should you ever have trouble like this, you be comforted in that you had a poor man’s blessing. I give that to you on my knees and may it help you along the road of life.”

With the deal done the tobacco was brought inside the premises, and placed it among Mr. Parson’s other contraband goods. Paddy placed the five pounds in his pocket and, in that moment, Mr. Burton burst into the room. The Tobacconist’s business and reputation was destroyed. Parson’s was subjected to a heavy fine, and the community would have nothing to do with him because of his treachery, causing him die in extreme poverty. The man’s family and descendants were destined to become homeless wanderers. There was to be no forgiveness for the family of the only informer that ever disgraced the district.

Tobacco Road Part II

Part II

Jaysus, Paddy,” said Shane loudly, “watch where you’re putting those feet of yours. Better take it easy friend, for one little mistake might just send you, arse over tit, two hundred feet down to where you could become supper for the sharks. There are very few that would dare venture down here, wee man, except for the odd wild fox and the honest smuggler. God help them, for they are both poor persecuted creatures, but the ‘Big Man’ has given them good helpings of gumption that allow us to find a place of shelter, where we can enjoy the rewards of our good work. Glory be to his holy name!”

Shane knew this place well and was not far short with his estimate of the sheer cliff’s height. The fearful cliff overhung the deep Atlantic Ocean, and a narrow pathway wound its way, snake-like, round and beneath so many terrifying precipices. It was likely, that if Paddy Corr had realised his predicament in the clear light of day, he may have been so frightened that he may have slipped in his fear and became a cold meal for sharks, just as Shane had intimated. Being ignorant of his frightening situation was the thing that saved Paddy’s life. Shane, meanwhile, had an inherent knowledge of this secret pathway, and a limberness of muscle unknown to most men. It was his ability to move so assuredly and smoothly that allowed him to swiftly follow every twist and turn of that treacherous path as it wound its way downward.

As the two men moved down the path the wild sea birds were disturbed from their sleep and swept past them from their nests, screeching cries of alarm that aroused others that were resting farther down the path. As they moved around the foot of the cliff, where the projecting crags formed the sides of a little cove, a harsh and threatening voice demanded “Who goes there?”

The voice echoed along the receding wall of rocks and sounded like the challenge from a huge guardian that was conducting its nightly patrol of the area. Those loud words blended with the sound of beating wings, and the frightened cries of sea birds. The horrid sounds of these cries were multiplied a thousand fold, almost as if all the demons of Hell had chosen to gather in that lonely place at that hour, and add their shrieks of terror to the wind.

Who goes there?” demanded the guardian of this wild place and once again brought about a cacophony of terrifying noises.

A friend, my old pal,” Shane answered. “Peadar, big man, what powerful lungs you have! But keep your voice a little bit lower, my friend, or you might waken the guagers and they could grab you when you least expect it.”

Shane Fee! You old thief!” the guardian replied. “Is it yourself?” Both men laughed and big Peadar turned his attention to Paddy, saying “You, wee man, take care of that tall, pasty-faced schemer doesn’t take advantage of you. But, I will shake your hand in the knowledge that Shane will yet come to a nasty end. Not another creature, except maybe a fox, could creep down that cliff in the full dark of night. But I know what saved your arses. Fate says the man that’s born to be hanged will not be drowned!”

By Jaysus, Peadar,” said Shane, who was rather annoyed by the manner in which the big guard had made fun of him, “do you carry that big gun over your shoulder to convince people that you are not the wee woman that you truly are? Aye, just like a woman you wave the gun about and scare every bird on the cliff with your bull-roar of a voice! Now, make way there, you big gobshite, or I’ll stick that gun’s barrel up your arse and pull the trigger!”

Away to the boss, bucket mouth,” replied the big guard. “I swear that, as sure as there is an eye in a goat, after you have danced on the gallows, you blackguard, I will buy your corps from the hangman and use it as a scarecrow!”

smugglersAfter they had moved on a few paces along the narrow ledge that lay between the steep cliff and the sea, Shane and Paddy entered a large cave excavated from the rock, which seemed to have been formed some kind of volcanic activity when the world was young. The path running through the cavern was covered with fine sand that had been hardened by frequent pressure, and it caused the sounds of their feet to reverberate in the gloominess. Ahead of the two men a strong light gleamed, piercing the darkness and partially revealing the walls of the cavern. The far space beneath the lofty cavern roof, was impervious to the powerful light and extended onward, dark and undefined. From this darkness came the sound of human voices shouting and laughing uproariously. As Paddy and Shane moved onward a strange scene burst into view.

Before a huge, blazing fire which illuminated all the deep recesses of the high over-arching rock that rose to form the lofty roof of this Gothic cathedral, sat five strange and unkempt men. They were wild-looking men who were dressed in a variety of seamen’s clothing. Between the men was a large sea-chest, upon which was placed a large earthenware flaggon, from which one of the men, probably their leader, poured sparkling amber liquid into a single glass that was quickly passed around each of them. As they drank, the men joked, laughed and sang loudly echoing throughout the expansive cavern.

Well men!” said Shane loudly as they approached the group of men. “Ah! Mister Cronin, it looks like you and the boys are having great fun. Let’s all have another glass of Brandy and we can all laugh and sing together. How is it with that big hound of a dog, that knows how to bark so well at those dirty, plundering thieves of guagers?”

Ah! sure you’re very welcome, Shane,” replied Cronin with a large smile across his face. “The customer you’ve brought us may be depended upon for his discretion, I hope. Sit down, boys.”

We thank you,” Shane answered. “As for being dependable, there is no decenter man in this land than Paddy Corr, that stands here.”

Come on boys, and get yourselves a wee drink of our best Brandy, while I help you to some ham,” the smuggler offered. “I know you Shane Fee, you have the stomach of a shark, the digestion of an ostrich, and the good taste of the connoisseur.”

By God, that’s a compliment when it comes from your mouth, Mister Cronin,” replied the much flattered Shane. “Gentlemen, here’s a toast to free trade among honest men, and hang all informers from the highest trees! By all that’s good!” he said , smacking his lips, “But that’s the quare stuff! It brings a powerful warmth to the stomach!”

You are welcome to our home, Paddy Corr,” the leader of the group spoke loudly, “there’s a roof over our head, the rent is paid, and the barrels of best Brandy have not been watered down. So eat, drink, and be merry. When the moon reaches its highest point, we can proceed to business.”

Paddy, being the gentleman that he was, made ready to thank his host until Shane Fee again interrupted. “I have never saw a man, himself and his friends. Drinking and womanising on land, and spreading the sails of that boat of yours ‘The Black Widow’ over the sea. By the Devil, if I had Donald the Piper beside me, and that barrel of Brandy, sure I’d drink and dance until morning. But here’s to God’s blessing on us all, and success to our trip, Paddy, my friend.” And with those words he drained his glass.

Then, after many successive rounds passed by, the emaciated looking Shane Fee became totally intoxicated, and he called out at the top of his voice, “Silence now, boys, untl I give you a song.” In a squeaking, non-melodic,and out of tune voice he began to sing:

“Ah, will you come to the bower,

O’er the deep and thunderous ocean,

Where stupenduous waves roll,

In deep and thunderous motion.

Where the mermaids are seen,

and the fierce tempest gathers,

To Ireland the Green,

Dear home of our fathers.

Will you come?

Will you? Will you?

Will you come to the bower?

Poor Man’s Bridge Pt I

When ghosts, as cottage maids believe,

Their pebbled beds permitted leave,

And goblins haunt, from fire or fen,

Or mine or flood, the walks of men.”—— Collins.

This is a story adapted from an original tale written by John Keegan, an Irish writer, and storyteller, who was born in the townland of Killeaney, near the village of Shanahoe in County Laois (formerly Queen’s County). John was born in 1816, in the house of his uncle, Thomas Maloney, who was a local hedge-school teacher, with whom John’s parents lived. He was educated by his uncle, who had established a school in the sacristy of Shanahoe chapel, about 1822, prior to the erection of a school in the village in 1830.This particular story was published in 1846 and is an excellent example of Irish storytelling in the eighteenth century, before, during and after the great Famine.

It happened one evening last winter. It was a Christmas holiday evening, and the western wind was sweeping wildly from the grey hills of Tipperary, across the rich and level plains of County Laois. When a blast of wind blast roared down the chimney, and the huge rain-drops pattered saucily against the four tiny glass panes which constituted the little kitchen window, I was sitting in the cottage of a neighbouring peasant. I was in the middle of a small but happy group of village rustics, and enjoying with them that enlivening mirth and sinless delight, which I have never found anywhere else but at the fireside of an Irish peasant.

The earthen floor was well scrubbed over, while the various bits and pieces of furniture that existed were arranged with more than the usual tidiness. Even the crockery on the well-scoured dresser reflected the ruddy glare from the red fire with redoubled brilliancy, glittering and glistening as merrily as if they felt conscious of the calm and tranquillity of that happy scene. And happy indeed was that scene, and happy was that time, and happier still the hearts of the laughing people by whom I was, on that occasion, surrounded. It has been among people such as these that I have spent the lightest and happiest hours of my existence.

It was, as I said, a wild night. But even the violence of the weather outside gave an additional relish to the enjoyments within that building. The wind’s blast whistled fiercely in the cracks of the old and weather beaten wall, but the huge fire blazed brightly on the hearth-stone. The rain fell in torrents, but, as one of the company laughingly remarked, “the wrong side of the house was out,” and I myself mentally exclaimed with Tam O’Shanter,

“The storm without may roar and rustle,

We do not mind the storm a whustle.”

Meanwhile, to help wind up the climax of our happiness, a bit of a boy who had been dispatched for a large tankard full of ‘poteen,’ now returned. Within a few minutes a huge jug of half ‘poteen’ and half boiling water steamed on the table, and was circulated around the smiling and expectant ring of people. It was passed with a speed, the likes of which the peasantry of Ireland will in a very short time, from certain existing causes, have not even the remotest idea.

Well, such an evening as we had, I shall never forget! It would be virtually impossible to even attempt a description of the festivities. Those who have witnessed similar scenes require none, and to those who have not, any attempt at one would be useless. All, therefore, I shall say, is, that such a scene of fun and frolic and harmless foolishness could not be found anywhere outside that ring which encircles the Emerald Isle. Even within that bright zone, nowhere but in the cabin of an Irish “peasant”

The songs of our fathers, sung with all that melancholy softness and pathetic sweetness for which the voices of our wild Irish girls are renowned. The wild legend recited with that rich brogue and self-deprecating humour that is peculiar alone to the Irish peasant. The romantic and absurd fairy tale, that is told with all the reverential awe and caution, which the solemnity of the subject required, long amused and excited the captivated listeners. But at length, more is the pity, the vocalist could sing no more, having “a mighty great cold on him entirely.” The storyteller was “as dry as a chip with all his talking,” and even the sides of most of the company “were ready to split with all the laughing that was done.” Meanwhile, as if to afford us another illustration of the truth of the old proverb, “one trouble never comes alone,” even the old crone who had astonished us with the richness and the extent of her fairy lore, had also finished, having exhausted her huge reservoir of earthly spirits to entertain us.

Well, what could we do? The night was still young, and, better than that, a good drop still remained in the large tankard. Not surprisingly, as we all had contributed to procure the drink, everyone declared that none should leave until the very last drop was drained. But what were we to do to occupy ourselves? The singer was silenced, the storyteller was exhausted, and the volleys of wit and foolishness had exploded until everyone was exhausted from the laughter, and yet to remain silent was considered by all as the most uncomfortable way to spend such an evening as this.

Puzzled by this dilemma the man of the house scratched his scalp, and, in an sudden impulsive act, he stood up and handed me an old book that was covered in soot. “Maybe you’ll entertain us all by reading a story or two for the education of the company here, until it would be time for us all to go home?

Without hesitation I agreed to do as he asked, and on opening the dusty and smoke-begrimed book discovered that it was, in fact, “Sir Charles Coote’s Statistical Survey of the Queen’s County,” printed in Dublin by Graisberry and Campbell, and published by direction of the Dublin Society in the year 1801. I was, of course, well aware that the dry details of a work that was exclusively statistical, were not designed to amuse, or even interest, an audience such as this. But, sadly the library of an Irish peasant is always, unfortunately, scanty. In this particular instance, with the exception of a few mediocre works on religious subjects, there was only this ‘Statistical Survey.’ Nevertheless, I was determined to make it as interesting to my audience as was possible. For that reason I opened it at Sir Charles’s description of the immediate district in which we were situated, namely, the barony of Maryborough West, and townland of Killeany.

I began to read, “On Sir Allen Johnson’s estate stand the ruins of Killeany Castle, the walls of which are injudiciously built of very bad stones, although an excellent quarry is nearby. … ‘Poor-man’s Bridge’ over the River Nore was lately widened, and is very safe, but I cannot learn the tradition why it was so called.”

Read that again, sir,” said a fine grey-headed, patriarchal old man, who was present. “Read that again,” said he emphatically, and I did so.

He cannot learn the tradition of ‘Poor-man’s Bridge,’ the eejit!” the old man said with a sneer. “Sure, I can’t believe it. Normally, with a man of his education, I’d take his word as gospel. But, if he had come to me when he was travelling the country making up his statistics, I could have opened his eyes on that subject, and many others too.”

Some of those present laughed outright at the manner in which the old man made this confident boast. “You needn’t laugh! You can all just shut your potato-traps,” said the old man indignantly. “He might have thought he was a great man, with his gold and silver, his coach and horses, and his servants with gold and scarlet livery. But, I could tell him a thing or two about the ancient history and traditions of our country. In fact, a lot more history and tradition than all those landlords and landowners whom he visited, could have given him on his tour through the Queen’s County.”

Such boasting only served to increase the storm of ridicule which was beginning to gather around the old man’s head. So, in order to put a stop to any potential bad feelings, which the occasion might cause, I asked him to simply tell us the tradition surrounding “The Boccough Ruadh.”

After some coaxing and some flattery he agreed, and he began to tell us a curious story, the substance of which follows:-

The River Nore flows through a district of the Queen’s County that is famous for its fertility and romantic beauty. From its source among the blue hills of Slievebloom to where the river’s bright ripples mix with the briny waves of the Irish Sea, at New Ross, many excellent and even some beautiful bridges span its stream. Until the beginning of the last century, however, except in the vicinity of the towns, there were only a few permanent bridges across this river. In the country districts access, for the most part, was gained over the river by means of causeways, or, as they are often called “fords.” These were usually constructed of stones and huge blocks of timber that were fixed firmly in the bed of the river, and extended in irregular succession from bank to bank. Over this pathway foot passengers crossed easily enough, but cattle and wheeled carriages were obliged to struggle through the water as well as they could. But, in time of flooding, and in the winter season when the waters were swollen, all communication was cut off except to pedestrians alone.

One of those “fords,” in former times, crossed the Nore at Shanahoe, a very pretty neighbourhood, about three miles northwards of the beautiful and rising town of Abbeyleix, in the Queen’s County.Here, the river winds its course through a silent glen, and several snug cottages and farm-houses arise above its banks at either side. The country in this neighbourhood is remarkably beautiful. Several great homes are scattered along the banks of the river in this vicinity, all elegant and of modern erection. Meanwhile, swelling hills, sloping dales, gloomy groves, and the ruins of churches, towers, and grey castles, ornament and beautify the scene.

About a hundred years ago, on a gentle piece of rising ground, along the eastern bank of the river, stood the cabin of a man named Neale O’Shea. At that time there was not another dwelling within a mile or two of the ford, and on many occasions Neale was summoned from his midnight slumbers to guide the traveller as he made his way over the lonely and dangerous river pathway.

One wild and stormy December night, when the angry foaming water of the agitated river beat against the huge limestone rocks that formed the stepping-stones of the ford, Neale O’Shea’s wife thought she heard, between the pauses of the wind, the cry of someone in distress. She immediately awakened her husband, who was stretched out and asleep on a large oak stool in the chimney corner, and told him to look outside. Neale, who was always willing to assist a fellow-creature, got up from his resting place. Flinging his grey cloak over his wide shoulders, and grabbing hold of a long iron-tipped pole, which he constantly took with him on his nightly excursions, hurriedly made his way down to the river’s edge. He stood for a moment at the verge of the ford, and tried to see through the intense gloom of the night, to try and identify a human form, but he could see nothing. “Is there any one there?” he shouted out in a loud voice, which rose high above the whistling of the wind, and the rushing of the angry and swift-flowing river.

A voice sounded at the other end of the ford, and with steady step great determination, crossed over the wet and slippery stepping-stones. “Who the devil are you?” Neale called out to the figure of a man who was stretched out on the brink of the river, very near to the entrance of the ford. “Whoever I am,” the stranger faintly replied, “you are my guardian angel, and it was surely my good fortune which caused you to come and rescue me from a watery grave.”

Whoever you are,” said Neale, “come along with me, and Kathleen and the children will make you welcome in my cabin until morning.” Having given the invitation, he seized the bent form of the travel weary stranger, and using all his strength to fling him on his back, Neale trudged over the stepping-stones, chuckling with delight, and happily whistling a tune as he went.

The dangerous path was soon crossed, and arriving at the door, Neale pushed it open before him, and with a smile he laid his trembling burden down on the warm hearth. A fine fire blazed merrily, and its flickering flames fell brightly on the pale face of the stranger. He was a tall, portly figure of a man, stooped as if from extreme suffering rather than from age, and he had a wooden leg. His features, which had evidently been handsome in his youth, were worn, pale, and extremely thin, and looked as though he might be about fifty years of age. His clothes were faded and ragged, and he was entirely without shoes or stockings. The man’s head was covered by a broad-brimmed leather hat, under which he wore an enormous red nightcap of coarse woollen cloth.

Neale’s good wife, Kathleen, now set about preparing supper, and while she was doing this, the stranger gave them both a brief account of his life. He told them that he was a native of the north of Ireland, and that he had spent several years of his youth at sea. He admitted that he had been wounded in a fight with smugglers on the coast of France, and after losing his leg, he had been discharged from his employment, and sent out into the world, without having one friend on earth, or a penny in his pocket. In this emergency he had no alternative but to beg for assistance from his fellow-men, and had thus for the last twenty years wandered up and down the land, entirely dependent on the bounty and charity of the public.

Supper was now ready, and having taken a share of a comfortable meal, the wanderer went to rest in a comfortable “shake-down” bed, which the good woman had prepared for him in the chimney corner. The storm died away during the night, and next morning the watery beams of the winter’s sun shone faintly yet cheerfully on the smooth surface of the silvery Nore. The stranger was up at sunrise, and was preparing to leave, but his kind host and hostess would not allow him to go. They told him to stop a few days to rest, and in the interim, that he could do no better than take his post at the ford, and ask alms of those who passed that way. There were always a great many people that passed there and, he was told, as nothing was ever begged from them in that place, they would cheerfully extend their charity to a person worthy of help.

Acting on their suggestions, the old sailor was soon sitting on a stone at the western end of the ford. With his old beret in his hand, and his head enveloped in the gigantic red nightcap, he begged for alms, in the name of God and the Virgin, from all those who passed that way. Before the faint beams of the December sun had sunk behind the distant hills, the old sailor could show that had earned more money than ever he did before, or since his limb was swept off by the shot of the smugglers.

The next morning, and every morning after, the sailor was to be found at his post at the ford. He soon became so well known to all the villagers, and from the circumstance of his always appearing with no other head-gear than the red nightcap, they nicknamed him the “Boccough Ruadh.” This was the name by which he was known for ever after until his death.

The days and weeks passed by as usual, and the one-legged old sailor still conducted his lucrative employment at the river’s ford. Neale O’Shea’s cabin still continued to supply him with shelter every night, and all his days, from cock-crow until the final evening song of the wood-thrush, were spent at the ford, seated on that large block of limestone that is called to this day the “Clough-na-Boccough.”

The old sailor’s hand was stretched out to every stranger for alms, claiming it was “for the good of their souls,” and very few passed without giving something to the Boccough Ruadh.In this way he acquired considerable sums of money, but constantly denied having even a penny to his name. Whenever he was tormented by any of the neighbouring children about the size of his purse, he would get into a great rage. Angrily he swore, by the cross made by his crutch, that between buying a wee bit of tobacco and paying for other things he wanted, he hadn’t as much as would jingle on a tomb-stone, or as much that would buy a farthing candle to show a light on his poor corpse at the last day. He described the food that he ate as being the very worst, and unless it was supplied by the kind-hearted Kathleen O’Shea, he would sooner go to bed without supper than lay out one penny to buy bread. He allowed his clothes to go degrade into rags, unless any person in the area gave him old clothes for charity, and he would not pay for soap to even wash his shirt. Despite their best efforts, however, no one could find out what he did with his money. The man did not spend a half-crown in a year, and most people believed that he was piling it all up to give for masses that would benefit his soul on his dying day.

The years rolled by, and Neale O’Shea having reached old age, died, and was buried with his own people in the adjacent green churchyard of Shannikill, that lay on the banks of the winding Nore. The Boccough followed the remains of his kind benefactor to his last earthly resting-place, and poured his sorrows over his grave in loud and long-continued lamentations. But though Neale was gone, Kathleen remained, and she promised that while she lived, neither son nor daughter should ever turn out the Boccough Ruadh.

It was now forty years since the Boccough first crossed the waters of the Nore, and still he was constantly to be found from morning until night on his favourite stone at the river’s side. In the mean time, all the O’Shea children were married, and spread out through various parts of the country, with the exception of Terry, the youngest son. He was a fine stout fellow, now about thirty-five years of age, who still remained in a state of batchelorhood, and said he would continue to be single, “until he would lay the last sod on his poor old mother.”He had great strength, and he inherited all his father’s kindness of heart and undaunted bravery. Terry was particularly attentive to the Boccough, whom he regarded with the same affection as a child would a parent.

One morning in summer, the Boccough remained in his bed longer than was his usual custom, and thinking that he might be unwell, Terry went to his bedside, and asked him why he was not up as usual. “Ah, Terry,” said the old man sorrowfully, “I will never get up again until I get the wooden box. Sure, my days are spent, and I know it, for there is something over me that I cannot describe, and I won’t be alive this time tomorrow.” and as he said these words, he heaved a deep groan, and Terry, wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his coat began to weep bitterly.

Will I go for the priest?” asked Terry, sobbing as if his heart would break.

No,” replied the old man sorrowfully, “I do not want him. It is a long time since I complied with my religious duties, and now I feel it is useless.”

There is mercy still,” replied Terry; “you know the old saying,‘Mercy craved and mercy found

Between the saddle

and the ground.’”

The old man did not reply, but shook his head, indicating his determination to die without the consolations that religion might provide, while Terry trembled for his hopeless situation. “Well, since you won’t have the priest, will you give me some money till I bring you the doctor?” said Terry.

The old man’s eyes literally flashed fire, his form heaved with rage, and his face showed an almost demoniac indignation.

What’s that you say?” he demanded in a ferocious tone, and Terry repeated the question. “Send for a doctor? Give you money?” echoed the old man. “Where the devil would I get money to pay a doctor?”

You have it, and ten times as much,” said Terry, “and you cannot deny it.”

If I have as much money as would buy me a coffin,” said the Boccough, “may my soul never rest quiet in the grave.”

Terry crossed his brow with terror. He knew the unhappy wretch was dying with a lie on his tongue, but he resolved not to press the matter further. “You are dying as fast as you can, remarked Terry; “have you anything that you want to say before you go?”

Nothing,” he replied faintly. “But let me be buried with my red nightcap on me.”

Your wish must be granted,” said Terry, and he went to awake his old mother, who still lay asleep. When he returned, he found the old man breathing his last. He uttered a convulsive groan, and expired.